Missoula College most contentious project in bonding bill

A University of Montana handout showing a rendering of the proposed new Missoula College building

A University of Montana handout showing a rendering of the proposed new Missoula College building

The Montana Legislature is looking at a nearly $100 million dollar bonding bill (HB14) to fund a dozen construction projects at colleges and other state departments. These range from renovating Main Hall at the University of Montana-Western in Dillon to constructing a new Montana Historical Society building.

The single project in the bonding bill   generating the most opposition is building a new Missoula College facility (formerly known as the Missoula COT) on the current University of Montana golf course.

“The last best open space in Missoula just happens to be a golf course,” Missoula resident Lewis Schneller told a bonding bill hearing of the Joint Appropriations Subcommittees on Education and Long Range Planning. Schneller echoed the sentiments of several bill opponents in preferring the a new Missoula College be built instead west of town at the site known as Fort Missoula.
College officials say the current facility built for 700 students is woefully inadequate to serve the 2,500 students currently attending school there. Missoula resident Cindy Reimers says most of the people she talks to agree a new facility is badly needed but “only about one in a hundred people I speak to want it at the new location being chosen by the University.”

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom says building on the golf course, otherwise known as “South Campus” is a proposal “thinking about the future of the University of Montana as a whole.” He says Missoula College is the next building that needs to be built, but UM has outgrown the main ‘Mountain Campus’ and other projects will need a space. He points out the UM golf course is less than a mile away from the main campus, versus the six to seven miles it takes to reach Fort Missoula.

“Where does the next building go, does it go in Fort Missoula?” Engstrom asked the committee. “Does it go at South Campus? Does is go along the River? That’s a very inefficient way to design and plan for the long term future of this institution, the University of Montana that is so important to Missoula and so important to the state of Montana.”

Similar bonding bills failed the previous two legislative sessions. Long Range Planning Subcommittee Chair Representative Rob Cook (R-Conrad) thinks there is “consensus the projects are necessary.” But he says there may not be consensus on approving bonding loans for all of the projects versus paying for them with cash from the state’s budget surplus. He does hope to see all of the projects stay together in one bill, however.

“Once you start to separate projects then the likelihood of that project actually getting funded and getting the go ahead is significantly reduced. The goal would be to keep as many of these together as possible,” he said.